"I will kill him myself," came a whispered reply. It was muttered by a captain who had recently joined their ranks. John Andre, already gaining fame as a soldier, a poet, a duelist and above all else a gentleman with courage, who had just been released in exchange as a prisoner, was assigned to act as a liaison for Grey during the attack. "I will see to it, sir," Allen interjected.
He looked over at the prisoner, a civilian blacksmith who had come to their camp earlier in the day to report that a division of rebel troops, under the command of Anthony Wayne, was encamped near Paoli Tavern. That was already known, but the blacksmith carried the additional information that the men were demoralized after the drubbing they had received at the Battle of Brandywine, fought nine days ago. He reported that many were grumbling about deserting, cursing Washington and Wayne. Drunkenness was rampant and his own personal grievance was that they had looted his barn, insulted his wife, and threatened to loot and burn his forge. He added that they were keeping poor watch; the men were drinking gin and corn liquor even while on picket duty.
That was enough to spur Grey to action.
The blacksmith, however, never expected the next turn of events. He was "volunteered" to lead this midnight attack column, and openly wept when ordered to do so, crying that he was only a civilian, had done his duty to the Crown and should be let go.
The burly man was trembling, stifling back sobs as the soldiers around him prepared to go forward.
Allen went up to his side.
"You heard the general," he whispered.
"Why? I did my duty."
"Listen to me," Allen whispered. "There is no escaping it now. You are in this to the end. Once the fighting starts I will let you go, but if you try to bolt my orders are to run you through."
He hesitated, looking over his shoulder at Captain Andre.
"And if I don't, he will."
"You're not one of them," the blacksmith whispered.
"What do you mean?"
"You sound like you're from Jersey."
Allen did not reply for a moment. The man had a good ear for accents and guessed right.
"Why are you with them?"
"I could ask why are you with us," Allen snapped.
"I was only doing my duty. I am not a soldier, though."
"Well, I am."
"If my neighbors see me with you tonight, they'll burn me out."
"Not if we win," Allen replied coldly, knowing it to be true.
With the great battle at Brandywine the week before, and the utter rout of the rebel army, political feelings in the countryside around Philadelphia were in upheaval. More than a few were already Loyalists, and in the days before the fight as some of the undisciplined rabble serving with Washington took to foraging for food, feelings had shifted even more. After the victory, many were now hanging the Union Jack in front of their homes. For Allen, it was a source of intense inner confusion. He had joined the Loyalist cause a year ago, after his brothers Jonathan and James had run off to join the rebels, when the war was being fought up around New York.
James had deserted and was now back home running the family tannery and store. Jonathan though, poor Jonathan had stayed with the rebels and died the evening after the battle for Trenton.